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The View from the Centre by Keith Eyeons

08 July 2022

This author offers an instructive approach to them, says Paul Avis

IT IS not often that I review a theological book that ticks all the boxes and does excellently throughout what it sets out to do. But The View from the Centre by Keith Eyeons, the Chaplain of Downing College, Cambridge, does just that.

In an engaging personal style, marked by clarity, sanity, humour, and courtesy, he makes a persuasive case for the “centre” of Anglican faith and practice. The author sees himself as speaking from the middle ground of Anglican theology, spirituality, and morals. That is a perspective that embodies those highly idealised qualities that are (or used to be) claimed for the Anglican tradition: civility, moderation, reasonableness, and tolerance, combined with clear convictions. Few will deny that we need to see and hear more of those qualities in Anglican behaviour and discourse today.

It is easy to deceive ourselves into imagining that it is we who occupy the middle ground, the sane central ground between extremes, where all right-thinking people belong. No one likes to think of themselves as “way out”. The worst name that the media can give to a deluded, violent religious fanatic is “extremist”. So, any claim to occupy the centre ground deserves to be taken with a large grain of salt, as part of an ideological framework. But Eyeons carefully sets out the polarised, antagonistic positions that are such an obvious feature of church life, within both Anglicanism and the other main Christian traditions, before offering his own perspective, located somewhere in between.

He can speak with conviction about the extremes because, in his questioning journey of faith as a young man, he tried out many of them, from evangelistically aggressive university Christian Unions to the stereotyped spontaneity of Charismatic praise meetings and on to Anglo-Catholic liturgical finesse and the opulent mystagogy of Orthodox worship. Eyeons’s personal journey provides the framework for his critical exploration of what is now offered on the menu for those enquiring persons who may be looking wistfully at the Church, its worship, beliefs, and moral guidelines.

The starting point is the question “Why are churches so different?” The extended answer that Eyeons gives is not so much ecclesiological as phenomenological. He looks at the presenting phenomena and investigates the reasons for them.

In the course of his narrative, and with frequent reference to scripture, the author covers a range of relevant areas and issues: the Church global and local (where is the Church?); the grace to be found in the Church’s celebration of the sacraments (his approach is strongly sacramental); the tension or complementarity between traditional and contemporary styles of worship (he has sampled them all and now finds traditional liturgy the most helpful); patriarchy, equality, and gender (he strongly affirms the role and dignity of women within the Church); sexuality, including same-sex relations (which he defends); parenthood, contraception, and family life; and the challenge of proclaiming the gospel in a pluralistic society and culture amid a cacophony of voices.

In every area, he sets out the strengths and weaknesses of positions that he does not now hold himself, and he does so with impartiality and courtesy, though he is not afraid to expose, with a shaft of insight, the threadbare arguments or dubious practices of some groups. This sets him up to reveal his own convictions.

Eyeons’s approach is one that, he testifies, has worked well with students and other explorers of life and faith. His method is marked by radical hospitality, openness to questioning and discussion with no holds barred, and a readiness to voice his own firm beliefs without forcing them on anyone or demonising those who hold opposed views. In the face of much bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance among Christians, he is calm and reasonable, so that his views, when he eventually gives them, carry conviction.

Although the book does not discuss this, it may be that it is precisely the traditional centre ground that is currently being marginalised, driven to the periphery by ephemeral influences that care little for theology, ethics, and the Anglican tradition, and know little of them. So, our author’s voice is needed all the more and deserves to be heeded. The View from the Centre lends itself to group discussion and seminar teaching. I highly recommended it for thinking Anglicans, especially ordinands and potential ordinands, the clergy, and questing lay people.

The Revd Dr Paul Avis is Honorary Professor in the Divinity School, University of Edinburgh, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter, and the Editor-in-Chief of Ecclesiology.


The View from the Centre
Keith Eyeons
Ellis & Maultby £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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